10 Expert Ways to Market Your Biosolids Program

You don't need a massive marketing budget to promote your biosolids program. See what the experts say about networking, word-of-mouth and smart partnerships.
10 Expert Ways to Market Your Biosolids Program
Publicity is a big component of the marketing loop, the brand name for King County's biosolids. All of the biosolids trucks include the product logo.

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If you want to recycle your biosolids, you have to market.

And while that involves more than putting out a pile and printing a brochure, good marketing doesn’t have to cost a fortune or be too complicated to practice. You just need to know your product, understand your customers and network, network, network.

Those were some of the takeaways from a recent webinar on biosolids marketing produced by the Water Environment Federation and sponsored by GEA Westphalia Separations.

One of the presenters was Kate Kurtz, a biosolids project manager for the King County (Washington) Wastewater Treatment Division.

Top on her list of most important things municipalities should do to effectively market biosolids is to network with national, regional or state biosolids organizations — whichever is more accessible. Kurtz says it’s unrealistic to expect small utilities to have the time and resources to effectively market biosolids by themselves, but membership in biosolids organizations can be invaluable. In her case, it’s the Northwest Biosolids association.

“There’s no substitute for this kind of networking,” she says.

Kurtz helps manage a biosolids program that includes farm and forestland application of most of King County’s Class B biosolids product, called “Loop” to emphasize the recycling aspect of the program. Up to 5 percent of King County biosolids are made into compost and marketed to area gardeners.

King County partners with selected farmers and works with local master gardener groups to create biosolids advocates.

“Some of the farmers we have worked with for a long time formed their own companies to distribute biosolids to their neighbors,” says Kurtz. “They are local spokespeople for biosolids reuse. They are users of the material locally and have first-hand experience.”

The area’s master gardeners are another primary audience.

“They know and care about soil,” Kurtz says, “so we work with them because they in turn work with local gardeners. It’s training the trainers, if you will.”

In addition, King County is a regular exhibitor at the annual five-day flower and garden show in the Seattle area.

Kurtz says another marketing strategy is to stay ahead of the information flow — especially negative information that sometimes appears about biosolids.

“In a way, public ignorance about biosolids is an opportunity for us,” she says, explaining that the public generally doesn’t know much about biosolids. The information vacuum creates an opportunity for her utility to get out there and tell the recycling story.

Recycling appeals
“We don’t just respond to negative publicity,” she says. “We’re out there talking with the public."

She explains that people usually like the idea of recycling, and that’s how King County pitches the message.

“Don’t be timid,” she says. “The public likes recycling.”

King County gets a handle on public knowledge and reaction to biosolids through a phone survey the utility does of customers every two years. Two of the questions have to do with biosolids.

Finally, Kurtz stresses branding and publicity. She acknowledges the “loop” name for the King County product is edgy, but she points out it’s also memorable.

“We put our logo on all our biosolids trucks,” she says. “People ask, 'What is that?'”

Top 10 Marketing Ideas

Other presentations in the biosolids webinar were made by Chris Peot of DC Water, District of Columbia; Peter Kusion of Ocean City, New Jersey; and Gayla Wright of Denton, Texas. Here’s a summary of their Top 10 biosolids marketing recommendations:

  1. Seek out and appeal to many different customers.
  2. Make your biosolids material easy to use.
  3. Invest in branding.
  4. Use many promotional media, but word-of-mouth works just fine.
  5. Know your plant science.
  6. Make sure your administration is behind you.
  7. Don’t expect overnight success.
  8. Learn from your mistakes.
  9. Listen to feedback.
  10. Let others tell your story.


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